How Harper's HOPE Giving Circle supports young women leaders
Harper student Oyinkansola "Sol" Akinola of Schaumburg wowed a group of women last week with all of her accomplishments and poise. But what really stood out was her determination.
At a scholarship reception hosted by members of Harper College's HOPE Giving Circle, Akinola, who is majoring in fashion design, described wanting to make a difference in the exploitation of marginalized communities. She particularly is interested in the area of production and distribution of garments.
"I'm determined to cultivate my own ethical and sustainable channel of production," Akinola said, "while focusing on the betterment of women of color."
Akinola was one of four Harper students selected by HOPE Giving Circle members to receive a $10,000 scholarship. With last week's awards, it adds up to $100,000 awarded by the group since they formed the HOPE Giving Circle just four years ago.
"It's huge," Akinola said. "I spent the last five months studying in Paris, and I was looking for ways to continue working toward my degree. This will really help."
The HOPE Giving Circle grew out of Harper's Educational Foundation. The chairman of the scholarship committee, Lori Meier of Palatine, took great pride in this year's recipients -- the group's largest class, so far.
She remembers their first year, when they drew 10 applicants and chose two for the scholarships. Each year, the number of applicants has grown and so have contributors, allowing them to reach their impressive milestone of awarding $100,000 of scholarships.
"We like to say that it's 'women empowering women through scholarships, mentors and leadership,'" Meier said, "but it's really about building women leaders in the community."
All four recipients are beginning their second year at Harper. They may put their one-time only scholarship toward their current tuition or toward their transition to a four-year university.
Aleksandrina "Alex" Aleksandrov of Roselle is in Harper's nursing program. She has a 4.0 grade-point average while working part-time. She also finds time to serve as a student aide at the ESL and International Student Office, and as a peer tutor in the nursing lab. Aleksandrov ultimately hopes to become certified as a nurse anesthetist.
"With nursing, I spend tons of hours studying," Aleksandrov says. "This scholarship will allow me to work less and study more. I can't even describe how much this will help."
Aleska Schwartz of Hoffman Estates completed her first year in the Engineering Pathways program at Harper, earning a perfect 4.0 grade-point average. She plans to do one more year of general education and introductory engineering courses at Harper, before transferring to the University of Illinois, to concentrate in either civil or mechanical engineering.
"This will really lessen the financial burden for my family and me," Schwartz said, "and allow me to pursue my passion, which is engineering."
The final recipient was Ariana Herrera of Franklin Park, who also earned a 4.0 grade-point average, with the hopes of transferring to a four-year university and ultimately going to medical school.
"I've been waiting my whole life for an opportunity this big," Herrera said.
One of the founding members of the HOPE Giving Circle, Kathy Gilmer of Inverness, marveled over all of the accomplishments of the young Harper students.
"It's so rewarding to be able to make a difference in the lives of young women," Gilmer said. "And collectively, we can do that much more than as individuals.
"In just four years," she added, "we have changed the lives of 10 young women. Now that's empowering."